|Stephen King wrote the script for Cat's Eye, as he had done with the more cartoonish horror anthology Creepshow a few years before, but as this was released in 1985, it was an era of peak King adaptations with hit after hit being spawned from his busy typewriter. However, somehow, despite being generally well-reviewed, Cat's Eye never found its audience until it started to appear on television where people would stumble across it and be highly amused by it, gradually building a cult following rather than hitting the ground running. Now it can be seen on 4K UHD disc, fully restored with a nice gloss it probably didn't have since its debut.
Although he is not mentioned till the very end of the credits, Milton Subotsky was a co-producer on Cat's Eye, the man who had created the British Amicus series of portmanteau horrors, and you can see the fingerprints of his approach to an extent on the results here. He doubtless didn't do much more than buy the rights to the King short stories (the first two were from his Night Shift collection, the third was an original) and allow them to be used, but it did place the film in a grand tradition of horror shorts that had by then been taken over by television in the main, not that this meant the anthology movie went away for good by the end of the decade.
The opening established Drew Barrymore as the star as she psychically calls on the titular cat to rescue her from a monster, though that did not see a resolution until the very end. In the meantime, said cat (who goes through a few names) is captured by the offices of Quitters Inc., a quit smoking business that really does mean business. The conceit here was that they were so serious about getting their clients to give up the coffin nails that they ran things like the Mafia - indeed, there were plenty of indications they used to be the Mafia and were doing their best to apply the tricks of that trade to a legitimate line of moneymaking.
James Woods was perfectly cast as their latest victim, pitching it just right between humour and nervous energy: we can feel his panic when he cannot get another cigarette, but also his terror when Quitters bring his wife in to torture in front of his eyes after one tiny slip-up. All in all, a very satisfying half hour. The same could be said of the second story, where Robert Hays was trying to get away from Mob boss and gambling addict Kenneth McMillan because he was having an affair with his wife. Unfortunately for Hays, he is kidnapped by the criminal and made to play out a little wager, which is to walk around the outside of the building on a ledge many storeys up.
If he manages it without falling to his death, Hays gets to go with the wife and a financial reward. As if that were not bad enough, McMillan is trying his best to put him off, with firehoses aimed at his body and even distractions he could not have arranged, such as a pigeon that pecks at our hero's ankle. This has a rather cruel ending, but just desserts do get served – and the cat? He has been watching all this as McMillan's newly acquired pet after winning a bet for him, and escapes to finally reach Barrymore at the end of the segment, by which point we are into the only original story of the bunch, where the little girl's bedroom is invaded by an unwanted visitor in the form of a troll.
Not any old troll, but one designed by Carlos Rambaldi, the man who gave us E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which some traumatised kids would find perfectly appropriate. This creature lives in the skirting board, emerging not unlike the evil dwarf from East German cult classic The Singing Ringing Tree, and has twin purposes in life, one, to eat Drew's pet budgie Polly, and two, to steal Drew's breath as she sleeps (it also gives her nightmares as it's building up to this). Candy Clark and James Naughton were ideal as her quasi-humorous parents, blaming the cat for the mayhem until the climactic battle between feline and troll, achieved through simple but effective special effects.
As much a chance to admire the patience of animal handlers as it was an enjoyable fright flick, maybe the lurch into outright fantasy after the initial two narratives, which were at least based in the real world to an extent, was a step too far, but it seems this is one film where anybody who watched it had a different opinion on which third was the strongest. It was very well cast - Alan King as the boss of Quitters Inc obviously relished the serious role (though it is played for black comedy in places) and nobody really put a foot wrong. It did not put King off from penning more screenplays, and if he was not always the best judge of where his strengths lie, he has proved again and again both how difficult he is to adapt, and how splendid it is when they get it right. Directed by Lewis Teague after Cujo, Cat's Eye deserves to be remembered as a midtable success, not the best known, but a pleasant surprise when you give it a chance.
[SPECIAL FEATURES available on Studiocanal's Ultra HD, Blu-Ray and DVD:
NEW Interview with Director Lewis Teague
Audio Commentary with Lewis Teague
Johnny Norris on the Edge: Robert Hays Remembers Cat's Eye
"Like Herding Cats": A Conversation with Animal Trainer Teresa Ann Miller
Original Theatrical Trailer]